• Greenwashing in the Chocolate Industry


    As I’m sure you’re already aware, the mainstream cacao industry is rife with ethical issues, such as slavery, enforced child labour and the general mistreatment of farmers, who often earn barely enough to survive. As people become more and more aware of these issues, we see more and more chocolate companies ‘greenwashing’ - making dubious claims about the ethics behind their products, and often using made-up symbols and fake certifications on their packaging.  

    Even the official certifications are failing to achieve most of what they promise to. I’m not an expert on this topic but I talk with many people who are, and there’s an almost unanimous consensus that, whilst filled with good intentions, well known certifications like Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance are not even close to achieving what they set out to achieve, particularly in West Africa, where about 60% of the world’s cacao is grown. That’s not necessarily entirely the fault of these ambitious certification schemes, but the result of trying to fix a system that is so heavily broken. There’s an old saying where I come from - ‘you can’t polish a turd’. The mainstream cacao industry is undoubtedly a turd, and the system needs a complete overhaul.

    The fine cacao and craft chocolate industry are showing how things can be done differently, and with as much transparency as possible. The chocolate makers we work with are paying around two or three times the market rate for their beans, as opposed to the tiny premium offered by certification schemes (usually around 10% more than the market rate). They are working with farms where slavery is absolutely not an issue. One of the key things that is different about the fine/craft system is that it values quality over quantity. The much higher rates paid to farmers are based on the quality and flavour profile of the beans - it’s about doing the right thing, but it’s also about creating mutually beneficial business relationships that are sustainable and built to last. Likewise, that is why the chocolate we sell is more expensive than most supermarket brands - you’re paying for something that’s truly ethical, as well as something that is much higher quality and offers a completely different flavour experience.

    These issues around ethics and sustainability in chocolate are unbelievably complex, and made all-the-more confusing by the greenwashing we see everywhere, not to mention the big money marketing campaigns that are so much more prevalent than the voices of people and companies who are actually doing great things. Fine cacao and craft chocolate is just a drop in the ocean of this huge industry, but I hope that one day the example we’re all setting will be much more widespread, and that the world can embrace ethical trade and a quality over quantity approach to chocolate. 


    Photo courtesy of Luisa Abram. Views expressed are my own.

  • Chocolate and Cinnamon Flapjack Recipe

    Chocolate and Cinnamon Flapjack Recipe

    Flapjack was one of my favourite treats as a child so I decided to create this recipe and see what can happen when you throw some high quality craft chocolate in the mix. Traditionally the ingredients of flapjack are very minimal but I decided to jazz things up a bit. This recipe is so easy to make and takes no time at all, even for an amateur baker like myself. Enjoy!

    Ingredients (makes nine)

    • 135g whole rolled oats
    • 135g quick/Scotch rolled oats
    • 120g butter (or dairy-free alternative)
    • 110g raw sugar
    • 2 Tbsp golden syrup (or honey)
    • 60g dark chocolate (around 75%), broken into small pieces
    • 5 Tbsp Fix & Fogg Everything Butter (or crunchy peanut butter) 
    • 1 heaped tsp cinnamon
    • 4 Tbsp cacao nibs
    • 1/2 tsp sea salt


    1. Put all of the ingredients except for the oats and cacao nibs into a pan and heat gently on a low heat. Stir until all of the ingredients are combined and all of the chocolate is melted (takes around 8 minutes).

    2. Combine mixture with oats and cacao nibs in a large bowl. Stir thoroughly until evenly mixed. 

    3. Put mixture in a small baking tray, lined with baking paper, and flatten out - should be around 2-3cm deep. Bake in preheated oven on 175°C for 30 minutes.

    4. Leave to cool on a cooling rack for an hour, then slice into squares and devour!


  • Hazelnut and Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

    Hazelnut and Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

    The humble chocolate chip cookie can be taking to dizzying new heights when you introduce single origin craft chocolate. This simple and delicious recipe was created for us by Grainne Kerr, a talented local pastry chef and chocolatier who currently works at both Baron Hasselhoff's and Grace Patisserie. This recipe uses the Chocolat Madagascar 65% bar (featured in the month's subscription boxes), but you can play around with different chocolate and find what works best for you. Enjoy!


    300g plain flour
    4g Bicarbonate soda
    3g salt
    4g baking powder
    170g unsalted butter
    190g brown sugar
    130g castor sugar
    1 egg
    200g chopped hazelnuts
    230g chocolate


    1. Cream butter and sugars together until the mix has softened and slightly lightened.

    2. Add egg to butter mix and combine.

    3. Add dry ingredients, nuts and chocolate to the mixture and mix well to fully incorporate.

    4. Weigh out dough to 45-50g balls. You should get roughly 24 portions.

    5. Cook by placing dough on a lined baking tray, keeping dough about 6cm apart from one another to allow for spreading. Cook at 170°C for 10mins. Slightly less if you prefer a chewy cookie, or longer if you like a crunchy one (like me).

    Pro tip: if your cookies need a little help to spread during cooking, you can press down on them with a flat bottom cup or small plate.

    hazelnut chocolate chip cookies

    Thanks so much to Grainne Kerr for creating this amazing recipe for us!

  • Making Chocolate with Baron Hasselhoff's

    Making Chocolate with Baron Hasselhoff's

    The Story of Our Rhubarb & Custard Bar

    In late 2019, Clayton McErlane at Baron Hasselhoff’s kindly invited me to make a chocolate bar with him, from scratch. Despite my years in the chocolate industry and a reasonably comprehensive knowledge of the bean to bar process, I had never actually made my own chocolate. How could I turn down this opportunity to work with my number one chocolate friend and learn the tricks of the trade?

    rhubarb and custard chocolate nz

    Over the course of a few months, Clayton took me through the whole chocolate making process, including sorting and roasting the beans, cracking and winnowing the cacao, grinding and conching, tempering the chocolate and moulding the bars. It was a revelatory experience that filled me with even more respect for the professionals. I loved learning all the little touches that Clayton has learnt over the years; there are so many subtle techniques that seem insignificant by themselves, but across the whole process they add up to create something beautiful. Things like adding the ingredients to the grinder in gentle increments (rather than all at once), the perfect polishing technique for the moulds, little tricks with tempering and moulding so that you get the perfect looking bar with no marks, bubbles or bloom, and how to wrap the bars in a neat and efficient fashion.

    cacao beans nz

    At every step of the way we paid extremely close attention to temperature. Not just for the obvious things like roasting the beans or tempering the chocolate, but also little touches like warming up the grinder before we started adding ingredients, warming up the cocoa butter and cacao nibs before grinding them, warming up the moulds before adding the chocolate, and even being conscious of whether or not we wanted the air conditioning on. It’s an exact science that can take years to master, and involves a mixture of sensitive intuition and painstaking attention to detail. I developed a much deeper appreciation for the talent of the makers we work with.

    chocolate making new zealand

    As for the bar itself, I wanted to create something that's filled with fond personal memories. One of my favourite desserts as a child was my mum’s rhubarb crumble with custard - I loved mixing the crumble together with the fruit and custard, then eating ridiculously large spoonfuls. This bar aims to replicate that experience in the form of chocolate.

    artisan chocolate nz

    I came up with the idea of making an oat milk bar with added rhubarb powder, vanilla and nutmeg. I knew I wanted to use a cacao with bright fruity notes, and thankfully Brian Campbell at Miann was able to supply us with incredible Anamalai beans from Tamil Nadu, India. The tricky thing was that we were only making one micro batch of chocolate, so there wasn’t really an opportunity to test the recipe. We had to just go for it, using a combination of my intuition (read: total guess work) and Clayton’s experience of making similar bars in the past.

    craft bean to bar chocolate nz

    I’m really happy with the result, and I’m sure you guys are going to love it. If I was to make the bar again I would use slightly more rhubarb powder and a little less nutmeg, but I reckon it’s incredibly delicious as it is. We only have 50 bars available so this is an extremely limited release - be sure to grab yours before it’s too late!

    rhubarb and custard chocolate

    Here are a few more photos of the process...

    bean-to-bar chocolate making new zealand

    bean-to-bar chocolate making new zealand

    bean-to-bar chocolate making new zealand

    bean-to-bar chocolate making new zealand

    bean-to-bar chocolate making new zealand

    bean-to-bar chocolate making new zealand

    bean-to-bar chocolate making new zealand

    bean-to-bar chocolate making new zealand

  • The Chocolate Bar Interview 022: Kelly Go, Auro Chocolate

    The Chocolate Bar Interview 022: Kelly Go, Auro Chocolate

    For my latest interview I caught up with Kelly Go, co-founder of Auro Chocolate in the Philippines. Kelly's background in Political Science and Culinary Arts led to her decision to move back to the Philippines from the U.S and create a socially conscious and high quality chocolate company. She launched Auro Chocolate in 2015, along with her best friend Mark Ocampo. We're featuring Auro's Tupi 70% bar in our August subscription boxes, so I thought you might like to know a little bit more about this beautiful chocolate...


    auro chocolate


    What is your background and what led to the creation of Auro Chocolate?


    My chocolate journey was far from a straightforward one. I graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in Political Science and International Studies. I then decided to go to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris to pursue my lifelong passion for food. My mom is a pastry chef/engineer and my family is in the food equipment business, so my curiosity for food was developed from a very young age. My time at Cordon Bleu and France made me gain a deeper appreciation of the importance of sourcing quality ingredients and elevating it through the art of cooking/baking. Since I realised quite quickly that my skills were better suited to work outside rather than inside a kitchen, I started searching for various food-related opportunities in the Philippines and eventually settled on cacao because not only did I absolutely love chocolate, but saw that it gave me a unique opportunity to combine my passion for food and community development. Mark, my best friend, and I decided to partner together and move back to our home country, the Philippines, in 2015 to create great chocolate that makes a difference in our own community. It has been the most challenging and rewarding journey of our lives, and we are excited to keep pushing Philippine cacao and chocolate onto greater heights! 


    Where does the name Auro come from?


    AURO is a portmanteau of Au, the chemical symbol of gold, and Oro, the Spanish and Filipino word for gold. It represents a new way of looking at an old tradition. The Philippines is actually one of the first countries in Asia to plant cacao in the 17th century during the Spanish colonial period, and the first variety of cacao that was planted was criollo from Mexico brought here through the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade. In addition, we have also developed a rich culture of creating our own form of cacao drink called “sikwate” or “tablea” that has been passed on from generation to generation. This long history of cacao production and consumption has been largely taken for granted and not been widely shared with the rest of the world until recently, and represents the hidden treasure or gold in the Philippines that we have sought to uncover and transform into stories and products that make people see its actual value. 


    How do you decide where to source your beans from and which farmers to work with?


    We have decided to focus our sourcing initiatives in Davao, known as the “fruit basket” of the Philippines, because it is where more than 80% of the cacao in the country is produced. It is the region with the greatest diversity of cacao varieties and qualities at the moment, and many farmers and cooperatives have basic knowledge of cultivation and post-harvest techniques. We are also starting to develop other regions, but those will still take some time as they are in the early stages. We specifically choose to work with individual farmers and cooperatives who are committed to producing excellent quality of cacao and also share our social and environmental values. 


    auro chocolate


    How does Auro Chocolate support cacao farmers?


    We go beyond “bean-to-bar” by involving ourselves in every step of the process. Since we have a satellite office in Davao and employ a full-time team there, we are able to offer constant support to our farming partners and teach them organic farming and business management fundamentals. We are currently working with over 10 cooperatives and 50 individual farmers. We directly purchase all our beans from farmers at higher value, between 20 to 50% of global commodity price, to inspire quality and give farmers the opportunity to improve their standard of living. 


    We also share farmers' stories and highlight more unknown regions of the Philippines like Tupi in South Cotabato that often do not get sufficient recognition. In fact, one of the farmers that we have mentored over the past 5 years, Mr. Jose Sagoban of Paquibato village, was recently awarded Top 20 Best Cacao by Cocoa of Excellence in 2019. 


    How has COVID-19 affected your business?


    During the onset of the lockdown in the Philippines in mid-March, we lost the majority of our business and had to cease production temporarily as the entire country basically came to a halt and movement of goods and people was severely restricted. We immediately decided to pivot our business more towards e-commerce, which has helped us gradually recover. We are now back in normal operations and have been able to thankfully keep most of our team members. This pandemic has definitely taught us the importance of being resilient and adaptive. 


    We’re featuring your Tupi 70% bar in our August subscription boxes. What can you tell us about this origin?


    Tupi is a municipality in South Cotabato located at the foothill of Mount Matumtum in the southern part of the Philippines. It is most famous for the hundreds of hectares of pineapples that grow on its fertile volcanic soil. In between these large pineapple plantations, there are small farms that grow some of the rarest varieties of cacao that can be found in the country. 


    auro chocolate


    Is there a growing appreciation of high quality single origin chocolate in the Philippines? 


    It is definitely growing! Despite being one of the oldest cacao producers in the world, the Philippines is only starting to be recognised recently as an important origin of high quality, single origin chocolate. The international recognition and wider distribution gained by a few local craft chocolate producers like ourselves have definitely helped put the Philippines on the map, and I believe that this appreciation will only continue to grow over time. 


    What are some of the biggest challenges in your work?  


    Constantly adapting to the ever changing times and penetrating new markets. It’s not always easy to find the right partners, but we focus on finding one's that share our same values and grow with us. 


    auro chocolate Philippines cacao


    Who are some of your favourite chocolate makers?


    So many to choose from. A few would include Taucherli, Omnom and Fjak. 


    What are your hopes for the future of Auro Chocolate?


    We want to be able to reach more people through chocolate and empower more farming communities.


    auro chocolate


    Thanks so much to Kelly for taking the time for this interview. Be sure to check out the Auro Tupi 70% bar in our online store.

  • The Chocolate Bar Interview 021: Simran Bindra, Kokoa Kamili

    The Chocolate Bar Interview 021: Simran Bindra, Kokoa Kamili

    For my latest interview I caught up with Simran Bindra, co-founder of Kokoa Kamili in Tanzania. Simran and his team work with around 2000 small-scale farmers in the Kilombero Valley area. They buy high quality beans at well-above market rates, expertly ferment them at their facility in Mbingu, and then distribute them to some of the world's best chocolate makers. Many of our customers will be familiar with Kokoa Kamili as we have featured many great bars made with these beans, including the Foundry Chocolate Tanzania 70%, which was one of the first New Zealand-made bars to ever win an Academy of Chocolate award. The Cuvée Chocolate Grand Cru 75% is also made with these beans, and will feature in our July 2020 subscription boxes

    kokoa kamili

    What is your background and what led to the creation of Kokoa Kamili?

    My co-founder Brian and myself spent most of our careers working in international development and I believe we both left for similar reasons - wanting to look at using business to set up a more long term, sustainable solution for increasing farmer incomes. There are three main things that impact the quality of cocoa beans - the genetics of the trees, the terroir, and then the post-harvest handling - we knew that in Tanzania we had interesting genetics, a good growing climate - but that we were dropping the ball on the fermentation and drying and as a result were not on the map as a fine flavour origin. We wanted to see if we could improve the reputation of Tanzanian cocoa, and increase farmer incomes while doing so.

    kokoa kamili

    What is your role in the company and what does your daily routine look like?

    We are a small company so we both wear a lot of different hats - I handle more of the sales and marketing whereas Brian takes on the HR and finances - most of the rest of the tasks we have some overlap on. We have a small head office in Dar es Salaam where our families are, and split our time between Dar and our operations in Mbingu - a 10-12 hour drive away.

    kokoa kamili

    How does Kokoa Kamili decide which farmers to work with? Do you go looking for farmers, or do farmers approach you?

    When we started out, we did a lot of outreach to farmers, a lot of meetings under mango trees introducing ourselves, explaining our proposed business model, etc. Once we had our first cohort of farmers on board, it spread pretty organically - we pay more than anyone else does so farmers started coming to us. 

    kokoa kamili

    What are some of the impacts that Kokoa Kamili has had on farmers’ lives and the Tanzanian cacao industry?

    We pay more money to farmers for their cocoa - that's more money in a farmer's pocket. What she spends that money on depends on her needs/priorities of her family - it might be expanding her farm, improving her home, sending her kids to a better school, or just some meat in the pot on Sundays! We also offer extension services - providing training on good agronomy practices, and seedlings from our nursery every year. For the broader Tanzanian cocoa industry - we're a very small player - we export maybe 1-2% of the country's crop, however, I think that we've been able to put Tanzania on the map as a source of high quality cocoa. We're proud to work with some of the world's best chocolate makers - every time we see a bar with Tanzania listed as the cocoa origin it's a little point of pride for us, our team, and the farmers that we work with. 

    kokoa kamili

    What are some of the benefits of a centralised fermentation system?

    Quality and consistency. If you want to have a consistent, high quality cocoa bean you have to be centrally fermenting beans. Small holder farmers typically only harvest every two weeks, and outside of peak season, will be getting too small a harvest to achieve a good fermentation. We have strict protocols and monitor each fermentation closely to ensure it meets our quality standards. When so much of the flavour development happens at this stage, it must be closely controlled to make sure you're getting the quality that the bean-to-bar market needs. 

    kokoa kamili

    How do you ensure that farms are operating to the level of quality you require?

    Each delivery of cocoa that we receive, whether it's 1kg or 500kg, is subjected to a visual inspection - if it doesn't meet our standards we don't accept it. Simple. We've done a lot of work to communicate our standards to our farmer network and so these days it's pretty rare for us to turn away beans, as farmers understand our requirements and abide by them. With regards to farming practices, we require all of the farmers we work with to sign a supplier code of conduct ensuring ethical and labour conditions on farms meet our standards.  

    kokoa kamili

    How much cacao does Tanzania export? And roughly what percentage would be considered fine flavour?

    Data is hard to come by, but we estimate that Tanzania's annual harvest is somewhere around 10,000MT. It depends on how you define fine flavour! We produce in the range of 100-140MT a year. 

    kokoa kamili

    What are some of the biggest challenges in your work?

    Unfortunately infrastructure is still very poor in our part of the country - the road to our facility is often inaccessible in the rainy season so it's a rush to get the cocoa out before the rains hit in full force. That being said, things have improved in the past seven years - we used to have to drive to the nearest cell phone tower to make a phone call and now we have decent WiFi at our facility! The current pandemic has hurt a lot of our customers very hard, and that has knock-on effects to bean demand. We are confident the bean-to-bar sector will manage to survive the pandemic, but I think it will probably have set our growth projections back a few years. 

    kokoa kamili

    What are Kokoa Kamili’s hopes for the next five, ten or twenty years?

    For the bean-to-bar industry to grow! We've got some great examples in coffee and craft beer on where chocolate can go. It's fascinating to see the different avenues that so many makers are going down, and we continue to look forward to innovation and development in the sector! In the next few years, we're planning on putting up a new facility a few kilometres down the road from our current location that will allow us to increase our volumes, and to play around with a few other experiments! 

    kokoa kamili

    What are some of your favourite chocolate bars?

    Anything made from Tanzanian beans of course! 

    tanzania dark chocolate

    Thanks so much to Simran for taking the time for this interview. If you haven't tried any bars made with beans from Kokoa Kamili yet, be sure to check out our Tanzania Collection. Enjoy!